Has Starlin Castro found a home in the 5th spot?

Has Starlin Castro found a home in the 5th spot?

Bob Brenly opined yesterday that Starlin Castro may ultimately be best suited as a 5th hitter.  The reasoning is his developing power and his ability to make contact give him a chance to be a traditional run producer, that is, someone who drives in runs.

I agree.

At the risk of getting lambasted by those who say RBIs mean absolutely nothing, I think they still have some worth and there is skill involved when it comes to driving in runs. It's not all luck.

Certain players are more apt to drive in runs than others.  We know this intuitively.  Adam Dunn (.338 OBP, .456 Slugging) and Carlos Lee (.338 OBP, .439 SLG ) are statistically similar in some respects.  If anything, Dunn has had a significantly higher value as an offensive player in his career than Lee (average of 125 RC+ over 113 RC+.  But, in their primes, I think most of us would have feared seeing Lee more in an RBI situation.

The reason is simple.  The skill needed to drive in runs is the abiilty to make contact.  Lee is more likely to put the ball in play and thus is more likely to get a hit and/or drive a runner home.  As such, he's been the better RBI man in his career, even with Dunn's hitting 40 or more HRs 5 times and 38 or more 8 times while Lee has never hit 38 HRs in a single season.

While Starlin Castro is not similar to either player, he does make contact and he does get a lot of hits.  That is going to translate to a few more RBI down the road.  As it is, this year he has a career high 75 RBI and is on pace to hit 83.  Now, I understand the concept of out avoidance and the importance of OBP.  Most of the time I want guys to find a way on base.  But with guys in scoring position, I prefer someone who is going to drive them home, especially with two outs.

I think Castro can be that guy, especially as a 5th hitter, where he'll get plenty of opportunities.

At first Brenly said Castro wouldn't be a 100 RBI guy but he quickly changed that thought and I agree.  Had he been batting in the 5th spot all season, he certainly would have had a chance even this year.

Castro's HR yesterday was his 13th as a 22 year old who is just growing into his body.  He consistently squares up the ball and as he has filled out and added strength, it no longer seems unrealistic he can be a 20-25 HR guy, perhaps even before he reaches his peak years.

Its a long way from the days the Cubs considered batting him leadoff.  He's not going to be a big OBP guy and he's a slightly above average runner in short bursts (though I think he's faster than that underway).  Castro's best tool, however, isn't his eye or his legs, it's his bat.

That's not to say we should completely give up on him as as an OBP guy either.  As Castro develops power and becomes the guy you don't want to face with men on base, he'll get less strikes thrown early in the count -- and with the improved patience he's shown in the last few months (6.3% walk rate since June 1st), I think we can at least expect him to eventually average a walk rate of about 7% or so.  That's not anything to get all googly about, but if he hits .300 over 700 PAs we're talking about a .350 OBP.

I think most of us can live with that if he can get some big hits from that 5th spot.


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  • When I see .300/.350 I think of Aramis Ramirez, and I think that's completely realistic to think that Castro can attain an Aramis level batting eye. It's going to be exciting to continue to watch Castro grow.

  • In reply to kylejo:

    Exactly. He may not have that kind of power, but as an average defensive player at a premium position, i'll take .300/.350 and a bit less power.

  • John,

    in very limited circumstances (say, man on 3rd, two outs), a single is hugely more valuable than a walk. In those moments, maybe you want a hacker at the plate. I wouldn't. The value you may gain from success in a handful of these situations is drowned in the sea of value Castro doesn't provide by walking a puny 5% of the time. The key is to reach base and not hasten the end of the inning.

    I also should note that Adam Dunn has been the more valuable hitter over the course of his career than Carlos Lee, and with the exception of last season when Dunn was the worst hitter in baseball, it hasn't been particularly close:

    Bottom line is, RBI's matter only when you're knocking yourself in because you hit one over the fence. They are otherwise relics of a bygone era where Murray Chass celebrates Michael Young for his empty batting average and steady veteran leadership skills.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    If given a choice between a hit and a walk, especially with a man on base in any circumstance, I'll take the hit. The runner could get a good break and advance an extra base, there's no chances for an error with a walk, and I think hitters teeing off on a pitcher rattles him more than just a mistake in control.

    It takes a knack to get a batter in from third base with a sac fly. A team cannot manufacture runs without those kinds of hitters. Sorry, I'll take Lee over Dunn in any case.

    Also. to me, saying RBI's only matter if its a HR is like saying walks only clutter up the basepaths. Runs do matter in baseball.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Absolutely the run matters, in the context of the game. It doesn't matter in the context of keeping a running total of the number of baserunners the hitter drives in over the course of a season. A low total doesn't mean the hitter sucked, and a high total certainly doesn't mean he had a good season.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    But that's like saying that any yearlong stat doesn't matter, strikeouts, ERA, or new metric stats like WAR. If you look at it on a game basis, you could say that Tuffy Rhodes was one of the greatest sluggers of all time. He hit 3 HRs in one game off of Doc Gooden. I believe that was also his total for the year.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Alright I reread this and it comes off harsher than I intended. I'm not here to denigrate Castro. He's a good ballplayer, and I expect he'll be a great ballplayer when he grows up. It's the idea that RBI's matter.... It drives me crazy because they don't. Maybe in an inning to inning context, you can point to a run batted in as a turning point in a game, but that's mistaking opportunity for skill. RBI's reflect the opportunity to hit with men on much more than they do the skill of hitting. Really, I'd rather this story had been about batting average than about runs batted in, and I'm not the biggest fan of batting average.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    They're not predictive, but they do matter during the course of the game. You need players who can make contact, you need players to get runners home. You can't expect to walk around the bases unless you're in little league or facing Carlos Marmol on a bad day.

    I'm a big fan of the theoretical part of the game, but I think at times it overlooks practical application.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Opportunity is exactly what this article is about, though. The point is that he should bat in a spot where he gets those opportunities, because he'll take better advantage of them then say, Brett Jackson (even if BJax reaches max potential).

  • In reply to TheFiveYearPlan:

    Well put, that's precisely what I was trying to say.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Don't you think it's also better than a walk when there are less than two outs and a man on 2nd...or a man on 3rd. Or a man on first who can get to 3rd with less than two outs?

    That part on Adam Dunn was noted in the article -- I did a quick update right after I wrote it, and maybe it didn't get into queue until after your comment..

    The fact remains I think most opponents (except for maybe Kerry Wood) would rather see Adam Dunn up with men in scoring position and that's what this article is about.

    RBI is a combination of skill and opportunity. Some hitters are better suited to take advantage of that opportunity. If there is a man on 2nd or 3rd, I'd take a hit over a walk every time, regardless of the number of outs. Why wouldn't you? And it's especially true when the next hitter is your number 6 guy who is not likely to be either an OBP guy or an RBI, it will probably be someone like Brett Jackson.

    Out avoidance is huge, but scoring runs is the bottom line, and sometimes you have to take those opportunities when they come instead of deferring to the next guy, who may not be as able to take advantage of it.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I did miss the section where you noted their respective career offensive outputs. I 100% agree that it's better to get that runner in yourself than to defer to the guy behind you. No sabermetrician would argue with that. My issue is that hitting is dependent on a lot of things outside of the batters control: The pitcher, the defense behind the pitcher, the weather, the ballpark, etc.... Walks are really only dependent on the hitter and the pitcher, so they are more predictable.

    Here's my bottom line, and I get the sense you and I are arguing apples and oranges here. You're talking about the micro-situation of a single plate appearance with runners on. I'm looking at a hitter's likely performance in that situation over the course of an entire season, or even over multiple seasons. Your RBI guy can come through in that one game and that may be the difference between a win and a loss. My lower batting average, but higher OBP guy is going to be more valuable and contribute more wins over the course of a season, even if he drives in fewer runs.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    That is the basic difference and I do mean over the course of a game -- but the season breaks down to individual games -- eventually it all adds up. . Some guys are just going to come through more often, game after game, when given the same opportunity -- that's where some skill is involved.

    I wouldn't use RBI to measure the success of a player's individual season because part of it is dependent on outside factors, but I also don't think they're worthless when we look at the context of winning individual ballgames -- and that's sort of the bottom line here. In certain spots in the lineup, I want a guy who will more consistently drive runners home when given the same opportunity.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Another timely post John. We were watching the game yesterday and was thinking the same thing about starlin hitting 5th. But from a little different perspective, which u alluded 2 in this comment. Putting a lineup together and providing protection. I think starlins value in the 5 hole is that he provides protection for cleanup but is a pure hitter who does not need that protection behind him, ala a Bjax type. That 2 me is the value of that 5 hole and it being the hinge of a great lineup.

  • If Castro's average approaches his usual next year and gains a little more power, he'll also be a helluva backup to our cleanup, especially if he's a disciplined hitter.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    That's exactly what we should hope for.

  • If he can average 15 HRs and 80 RBI a year as a SS that will be great value for the Cubs. Add that to his range in the field. That contract extension is looking good right now. A good building block for the team.

  • In reply to John57:

    Agreed and I think he can top that -- and I also think he can add to his OBP totals as well, so I think he'll eventually help in any number of ways.

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    Excellent article, John. I've been somewhat averse to Castro in the 5-hole because I've always thought him to have the makeup of a great 2-hole hitter. Your argument is convincing, though, so maybe I'm warming to the idea.

    OT: Jorge Soler is in Chicago today taking BP. He's already on the 40-man. Would it be that unheard of to activate him for one game? There might be contract and arbitration technicalities, but I'm a Cubs fan and I need some entertainment. This is a ridiculous idea, I know.

  • In reply to Michael Jenkins:

    I'd love to see the guy at least get an AB, so he can get a glimpse about how good the pitching is in MLB.

  • In reply to Michael Jenkins:

    Thanks! I just think his skills are best suited there. His bat is his biggest tool and you probably want a better OBP guy in the 2nd spot.

  • In reply to Michael Jenkins:

    And while I'd love to see Soler take a few swings against MLB pitching, that is pretty much unheard of to activate him for one game.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It would've been interesting to see him bat against a Cub pitcher who needed to throw.

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    The Cubs may be so sold on Anthony Rizzo in the 3 hole -- and he's also a natural 3 hitter -- that they aren't even considering it, but I think Castro is a 3 hitter. I agree with the 20-25 home runs theory. On top of that, the guy is a natural .300 hitter who is developing patience at the plate. If his walk rate is 6%, that's an OBP of around .340. If he hits .320 (do-able for him), that jumps to .360.

    This is a guy who's more than capable of driving the leadoff and 2 hitters in with a HR or a double, as well as someone who can get on base so the cleanup guy (Baez/Soler) can rack up RBIs when he bounces balls off the apartment buildings across the street. For me, that's exactly what you want in a 3.

    Rizzo could do that, too. What it will really come down to is who has the higher OPS overall. Given their ages, and their respective struggles (taking a walk and left-handers), I don't think that's a lock either way at the moment.

    One other thing: if Baez does shift over to second base, the leadoff guy has to come from the outfield somewhere. Then you can either try to stick a true #2 in the outfield, too (DDJ), which means that one of the traditional power slots (right/left) is producing less power than usual, or have Castro be one of the higher slugging 2's in the league. The amount of thunder in THAT lineup is kind of scary to contemplate.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I still hope that leadoff guy will be Brett Jackson. 'IF' he can just cut down on the K's to 30%, without sacrificing his batter's eye, he'll be a great leadoff hitter, not to mention his skills in center field. That 'IF' has its own zip code unfortunately.

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    In reply to Eddie:

    Just don't see it. I want a leadoff guy with an OBP that is close to .400 (SOMEONE needs to be on base for Castro/Rizzo/Baez/Soler. Even if he cuts down on the strikouts, you're looking at a .350 OBP guy. I think Jackson is a natural #7 hitter. For the time being, that's great. If Baez plays second, Jackson is the worst hitter in the most logical leadoff positions (second, short, center). If Barney/Watkins is second, all bets are off. (Almora is obviously a wild-card here.)

  • In reply to Eddie:

    I agree. But things will change down the road as some prospects disappoint and others appear out of nowhere.

    John - Nice topic for discussion.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Thanks, gotta run for a bit, but I hope you all keep it going. Really interested to hear what both sides have to say. I'll join in again later.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    If he can raise that walk pct. a tick or two from what he's done since May (say to 7 or 8%) and hit .300, then I certainly wouldn't rule him out of that 3rd spot. We'd be looking at a .350-.360 OBP in that case to go with the other stats you mention.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Speaking of true #2 hitters, are we looking at Logan Watkins as someone who could potentially develop into that? Good OBP/walk rate, solid avg. I haven't actually seen him play at all.

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    In reply to TheFiveYearPlan:

    At the moment, he looks like a leadoff guy. He could also be a good #2, though. (That's where he's been hitting.)

  • john, I am impressed with castro making the adjustments at the plate when he hit that home run when he saw that the pitcher was throwing a lot of fastballs and he shortened his leg kick. I think it shows a lot of growth, and he is accepting coaching because dale said he was real proud of him with that. I think he could be a RBI guy, like a miguel cabrera. I know alot of people would say that castro does not have cabrera power but people forget cabrera was a shortstop with no power numbers in the minors. It is not out of the question castro could develop not the same power but 25-30 home run power with 300 ave and over 100 rbi's. Miguel cabrera is probably the best hitter in the game now, I said hitter not slugger because sluggers are easier to get out but cabrera takes his base hits in rbi situations and not just swing for the fence. I think with experience and coaching castro could be that type of hitter.

  • In reply to seankl:

    He certainly has looked like a more mature hitter of late and you hope he continues to build on that. He can definitely be at least a .300/.350/.450 guy with 25 HR power and that would be huge coming from a solid defensive SS.

  • I think ideally he's a #3 hitter. If he can get up to about 20-25 home run power, be more selective and still keep his average above .300, he's my ideal 3 place hitter. Rizzo 4, Soler 5, and so on.

    I've always liked a 3 hitter to have some speed. Get guys like Jackson, Sczcur, Almora, or even Campana if he can make consistent contact, and that can be a real frustrating lineup.

  • In reply to Jim Weihofen:

    Agreed on Castro. As long as he can get that OBP around .350, I'd have no problems with #3 either.

  • Statswise, 70 of his 75 RBI are with men on (5 of 13 homers were solo). He also has a .350 OBP with men on base and a .841 OPS. He thrives in these situations so he definitely works in the five hole.

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    Interesting numbers. He's a guy who just seems better suited for situations with men on base.

  • looking into the future a little bit here im trying to figure out where the cubs will want everyone to hit if our major prospects pan out

    the lineup im looking at is probably 2016 so the personell probably wont look exactly like this, but this is just for fun.

    the guys im using to fill out my lineup are castro, barney, rizzo, jackson, castillo, soler, baez and almora

    i think the best leadoff candidate from this group is probably almora. a leadoff center fielder with good instincts on the bases and decent speed to go along with his high contact rate and good batting eye sounds good to me.

    second id probably put baez. baez could also be suited to hit 3rd, 5th or 6th, but i think with this group of guys 2nd works best for him because of the protection he'll be getting and he and almora could be a force to be reckon with on the basepaths setting up the #3 hitter.

    in the 3 hole id have rizzo. at this point he'll be entering his prime and 30-35 home runs is not out of the question, hes a great guy to have behind baez and he already seems pretty comfortable in that spot today.

    batting cleanup is the man currently developing light tower power, jorge soler. i think when we signed him i envisioned him hitting in the 4 hole, driving in 100 and hitting 30+ homeruns, didnt you?

    all i really need to say here is that i agree with john, castro should look good in the 5 hole for years to come. and will get many opportunities to drive in runs with all the walks soler and rizzo will be taking.

    this is probably the hardest part of the lineup. but i think im gonna go with brett jackson because although he strikes out a lot and will probably hit for a lower avg than the guy in the 7 spot, he has really good at bats and wears pitchers down.

    castillo will benefit greatly in the 7 spot hitting behind jackson because after jackson tires out the pitcher, there will probably be many hanging curve balls and similar smashable pitches for castillo to take advantage of.

    i think barney will continue to improve, but no matter how much the 8th spot is his calling in this lineup. hopefully he continues to develop power and becomes one of the more feared 8 hitters in the game.

    1. almora, CF (R)
    2. baez, 3B (R)
    3. rizzo, 1B (L)
    4. soler, RF (R)
    5. castro, SS (R)
    6. jackson, LF (L)
    7. castillo, C (R)
    8. barney, 2b (R)

    as you can see this lineup is pretty right handed, which was also a small reason to put jackson in the 6 spot instead of 7, to spread out the lefties. i know t/j wants to go more left handed, but if all these guys pan out, i cant see them complaining about what side of the plate they hit from.

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    That's a pretty good looking lineup. I'd like to see if Watkins can make it at 2B. That would give the team another lefty and another OBP guy. With his good speed. He could conceivably hit leadoff and bump everyone down a spot....but that would put Castro at #6...ahh. I hope we have these kinds of first divsion team problems in 2016.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    i agree, any one of torreyes, watkins, villanueva or barney could be our second basemen at this point. the reason i stuck with barney at second is because on a team this talented, i would like a veteran grinder to keep the team level headed and set the example for the young guys about how to carry themselves. but i also like the idea of watkins because he could be your typical high speed, obp leadoff guy. i think in that situation you'd probably hit watkins first, move almora to 6th and jackson to 8th, but thats just my personal opinion.

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    In reply to jshmoran:

    Baez 2 and Castro 5 is probably backwards. I'd say more likely is:

    Baez (better baserunner than Rizzo -- OBP is gonna be key)

    Although, we have to be honest and say that's unlikely because the odds of Almora, Soler, and Baez all developing to their ceiling is -- to put i mildly -- small.

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    In reply to jshmoran:

    Don't forget Gioskar as a second baseman, either. He and Torreyes have played "anything you can do I can do better" all season.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    i did forget about gioskar, your right.

    about switching baez and castro, i think baez would be a terror in the 2 hole and you do have to realize im basically talking about 2016 when baez will be in his first or second year and still developing, down the line i completely agree that the switch would make sense, but at that point castro will be 26 and entering his prime and beaz will be 22, 23 entering the majors.

    and i completely agree the chance that almora, soler and baez all reaching their ceiling is totally unrealistic, but one can dream.

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    Agreed, someone will have to take Darwin's job, and ideally it would be one of these kids that can bat lh and hit one or two. Then we have a lineup for the ages! Starlins spot in that lineup is negligible, only because this kid is going to be a monster and can probably hit anywhere needed from 2 to 6. But ideally if all these kids pan out we are going to see a once in a lifetime Ernie banks type ss hitting 5th for a generation.

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    In reply to jshmoran:

    Line up is loaded forreal......though I'm of the group that wouldnt like to see Barney here by 2016. He gets too expensive for an overall league average 2b. Watkins can give you the same thing from the left side and better bat. We even have Torreyes and Amaya.

    Also let's not rule out Baez possibly playing second which can let another bat like Vitters or Candelario play 3rd.....then your line up is stacked lol

  • Just for 2016 (after all, that is my username)...

    Watkins 2B
    Almora CF (still young, less pressure here)
    Rizzo 1B
    Soler RF
    Castro SS
    Baez 3B (again, less pressure here)
    Jackson LF
    Castillo C

    Obviously unlikely what with free agent signings and everyone panning out, but hey, if it happened this way the FO can focus on pitching acquisitions.

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    In reply to TheFiveYearPlan:

    No reason to put Jackson in left. His bat is a minus there. That's a free agent, in all likelihood, or Amaya/Villaneuva being moved.

  • As everyone realizes the probability of all these prospects hitting their ceiling is low, but when some top prospects fail other lower prospects could surprise. Who knows what gretsky, dunston, vogelbach, jae ha,szczur, or other lower prospect will do. Future direction is to continue loading up on pitching prospects and a catcher or two. The future is looking up.

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    In reply to John57:

    Vogelbach just can't play the field -- maybe, maybe, maybe first. But his bat is plus plus. If he develops, my guess is he goes to Seattle for pitching, which they are swimming in. Maybe even a big deal to bring King Felix to Chicago. (That one will probably have to be based on Pierce Johnson or better, though.)

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Who knows what Vogelbach will be like in 2016 when he is 23. He may lose some baby fat and add lean muscle. In addition to looking like Babe Ruth what if he bats like him? What if the NL starts using the DH? Or he may gain weight and not progress. Should be interesting to follow.

    How old will King Felix be in 2016? I don't think Theo/Jed will want a pitcher that age but who knows.

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    In reply to John57:

    Reply fail -- see below.

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    They'd trade him before 2016. King Felix is signed to a pretty hefty contract through 2014. If there was a deal, it would be next offseason to bring him in for the 2014 season (he'd be 28). Since it's a full year, you get the draft pick if you can't re-sign him and that would be a guy that could solidify the rotation around Shark and (possibly) Paniagua and Vizcaino. All theoretical -- but there really does seem to be some possible trade options between those two teams.

  • Don't forget about Zeke DeVoss? I know he had a down season from last year, but he is a perfect lead off guy with his speed and OBP ability? How about:

    DeVoss - 2b
    Almora - cf
    Baez - 3b
    Rizzo - 1b
    Soler - rf
    Castro - ss
    Jackson/Candelairo - lf ?
    Castillo - c

    Of course then I woke up?

  • John, great topic!

    First, let me say that I have been really impressed with Castro's development this year. I cringed when Sveum had him batting #2 earlier this year. He just hacked away with Campana, etc... trying to steal.... That said, he has developed much better plate discipline and seems to have flourished in the #5 hole for now.

    The batting order is always determined by your talent and your coaching philosophy. I think Sveum wanted to do some things, but was very limited with what he's had to work with. We seem to strand an aweful lot of runners and are not very good at "manufacturing" runs. I think this team should have been a tad better in those two areas. But let's talk about what you want in each spot on the line-up card, assuming you were gifted with perfect talent in all of these spots, this is how it would look.

    1. Best OBP guy! Needs to be a weapon on the base path as well. I don't see anyone on the current MLB roster or anywhere before the lower minors I like here. IF only Campana could steal 1B!

    2. Best at moving the lead off runner over. Needs a solid grasp of situational hitting and should be an outstanding bunter. A 20+ SB guy would be perfect here too. I want to kick Sveum in the taint every time he puts Valbuena or Barney here....

    3. Best overall hitter. Period! (Castro or Rizzo currently - I think Castro is the better "pure hitter" right now.)

    4. Best power hitter. Period! (If #3 & #4 are the same, he bats 3rd). If Sori is here next year, I hope Rizzo establishes himself for this spot and pushes Sori to #5..

    5. 2nd best power hitter. I want Power here and will accept a higher rate of K's. I want somebody that flourishes with RISP. I'm not looking for him to start many rallies. Personally, I always felt this Aramis' natural spot.

    6. Another lead off type hitter. I want high OBP & base-running skills. I'd prefer a high contact &/or low "K" kind of guy.

    7. A number 2 type of hitter. this could also bea spot to put a guy who profiles somewhere else, but because of a magnified weakness is moved sown in the order i.e., B-Jax and his K-rate. Could also be a temporary spot for someone in a slump that needs to rebuild their confidence.

    8. Could be the weakest hitter or another spot to put someone that needs their confidence re-built.

    9. Pitcher - - - and I hope the NL never adopts the DH.

    Castro is good enough, and versatile enough to pretty much hit anywhere in the line-up with this team. As the talent level improves over the next year or two, I think his ultimate spot in the line-up will be determined by his development and that of those around him. If all the stars align, how awesome would it be to have a .300/.350+ stud SS like Castro batting 6th? The reality is that if he bats anywhere above 6th, we lose any offensive benefit Castro brings with sub-par production at another spot. I'll accept that for stellar "D" at another middle position (C, 2B, CF). We still have two corner spots horribly under producing and we have to find a long-term replacement for Sori....

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